The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended the nationwide eviction moratorium, which prevents families who are facing pandemic-related financial hardships from being removed from their homes. Renters who take advantage of the moratorium will still have to pay the full amount accrued plus any additional late fees or penalties their leases allow.
The CDC, a seemingly unlikely agency to intervene in housing problems, issued the moratorium order in September, stating that “evictions threaten to increase the spread of COVID-19 as they force people to move, often into close quarters in new shared housing settings with friends or family, or congregate settings such as homeless shelters.” The agency, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says the Public Health Service Act gives it the authority to issue the order.
While welcoming a federal effort to address the financial difficulties millions of families now face in paying for housing, advocates for both renters and landlords say this moratorium only delays the problems.
“While an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” says Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), which represents renters. “This action delays but does not prevent evictions.”
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“Hopefully, renters will be working with their housing providers during this period to really start having this communication and work on what’s doable,” says Paula Cino, a vice president with the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), a group that represents landlords. She says renters should discuss payment plans or other options to prevent winding up with “a really insurmountable debt at the end of the moratorium period.”
Who is covered by the moratorium?
Three groups of people qualify for protection based on their incomes:
- Individuals who earn $99,000 a year or less ($198,000 for couples who file jointly).
- People who received stimulus checks under the CARES Act last year.
- People who did not have to report any income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 2019 because of low earnings.
The moratorium does not apply to tenants who are being evicted because their leases have ended. It also does not cover those being evicted because they have threatened the health and safety of other residents, have caused significant property damage, engage in criminal activities on the premises, or violate the building’s safety codes or other contractual obligations.
I can’t pay my rent now. How can I use the moratorium?
To use the CDC moratorium to prevent an eviction, renters must sign a declaration form stating their financial hardships and give that form to their landlord. The declaration, which is considered sworn testimony, asks you to state that:
- You have tried to get government assistance to pay your rent or housing.
- You meet the previously described income qualifications to be covered.
- You can’t pay your rent due to lost income because of job loss or medical expenses.
- You have tried to make partial payments on your currently due rent.
- You will become homeless or forced to live in close-quarters shared housing if evicted.
- You understand that the accrued amount of rent you owe will still be due on June 30, along with any additional fees or penalties your lease allows.
According to the CDC order, rental organizations that violate the moratorium could face fines of up to $500,000. Individual landlords who evict tenants improperly could be charged up to $250,000 in fines and/or up to a year in jail.
Cino says enforcement of the moratorium may fall to the courts that normally handle evictions, where judges would consider this new federal order alongside any eviction orders that may be in effect at the local or state level in their jurisdictions.
“Where a state and local jurisdiction has a more restrictive eviction order that provides greater protection, those requirements will be layered on top of this” CDC order, Cino says. “A lot of this is going to happen at the judicial level.”
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB), 13 million renters have fallen behind on their rent. The American Rescue Plan Act, signed by the president March 12, offers $21.6 billion in emergency aid for low-income renters who have lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic. This money is in addition to the $25 billion in the December 2020 relief package, and is administered through local programs.
Additional programs funded through the American Rescue Plan include Housing Choice Vouchers for people recovering from homelessness and renters at risk for homelessness. The bill also gave $5 billion to communities to assist the homeless.
Kenneth Terrell covers employment, age discrimination, work and jobs, careers, and Congress for AARP. He previously worked for the Education Writers Association and U.S. News & World Report, where he reported on government and politics, business, education, science and technology, and lifestyle news.